Yep, it's that time again. Time to wave farewell to another mesmerizing baseball season. And time to hand out those annual Year in Review awards. So, the envelopes please
Most Valuable Players
NL MVP: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
It's a good thing people like me don't listen to guys like Albert Pujols at times like this. Heck, it was only a couple of years ago, during another MVP debate, when Pujols argued that only players whose teams make the playoffs ought to win these awards. But luckily for him, that's not always how this works.
What matters to me -- an actual NL MVP voter, by the way -- is that the Cardinals were in the wild-card race until mid-September. It's tempting to look at their roster and ask, "How, exactly?" But I know how. Pujols is how.
He was the centerpiece of a lineup full of role players and retreads. And somehow, that lineup scored more runs than the Brewers, Dodgers and Rockies, respectively. That might have had a little something to do with the fact that the best player alive hit .357, with more extra-base hits (79) than strikeouts (53), and drove in 114 runs, even though he came to bat with 116 fewer runners on base than Justin Morneau. And Pujols has done all that even though he has racked up almost twice as many intentional walks (33) as anybody else in the league and only 46 percent of the pitches thrown to him have been in the strike zone.
When I brought up his name to Bobby Cox this week, Cox's first words were: "You think you're never going to get him out." Want to argue Ryan Howard? It's easy to do. But Pujols leads him in slugging by more than 100 points, and in OPS by more than 200 points. Carlos Delgado? Great candidate. But even if you start with the day Delgado heated up (June 27), Pujols still beats him in OPS (1.102-1.035). Manny? CC? They did it for a fraction of the year. Pujols has done it all year. Yeah, it's true the Cardinals didn't win. But he's the single biggest reason they contended for 5½ months. So Albert, you were wrong two years ago. But you're the MVP this year.
Apologies to: Howard, Delgado, Brad Lidge, CC Sabathia, Manny Ramirez, Johan Santana, Lance Berkman, Hanley Ramirez, Geovany Soto.
AL MVP: Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
There's no set formula for what an MVP ought to look like. But I can guarantee you one thing: There has never been an MVP who looked like the Red Sox's favorite mini-mite. I mean, how tall is Dustin Pedroia, anyhow? "I don't know," laughed teammate Sean Casey. "Maybe 5-3? 5-5? 5-6? I don't know. But he plays like he's 6-5, 250."
Well, whatever you measure this guy at (and officially, he's, ahem, 5-foot-9), he has been a larger-than-life figure for a team that sure needed him. Pedroia could still lead the league in hits, runs, doubles and batting. He could become the shortest batting champ since Snuffy Stirnweiss (5-8) in 1945. And that's not all. Would you believe this man has mashed more extra-base hits than either Josh Hamilton or Miguel Cabrera? And batted .374 since June 14? All true.
The Elias Sports Bureau reports that Pedroia's 43 hits and 33 runs in 26 games in August marked the first month that any player has accumulated those numbers in that few games since Lou Gehrig's 48-hit, 35-run June in 1936. When the Red Sox needed Pedroia to hit cleanup for four games, he did that (going 12-for-18, with two homers, four doubles and a 1.222 slugging percentage). When they needed him to steal a base, he did that (20-for-21).
He's an energizer. He's a great defender. He's a leader. "Every night," Casey said, "you know Dustin Pedroia will do something to help you win a ball game."
Sure sounds like an MVP to me -- although just barely over Justin Morneau.
Apologies to: Morneau, Carlos Quentin, Kevin Youkilis, Joe Mauer, Vladimir Guerrero, Grady Sizemore, Hamilton, Evan Longoria, Francisco Rodriguez, Mauer.
Least Valuable Players
NL LVP: Andruw Jones, Dodgers
I can think of a lot of excellent ways to make use of $36 million. In retrospect, depositing it in Andruw Jones' checking account probably wouldn't make the top 100,000.
In fairness to Andruw, he wasn't 100 percent (although a scope on the patella isn't quite up there with reconstructive ACL surgery, or possibly even the avian flu). But that doesn't excuse this man for coming to camp 25 pounds overweight. And it doesn't fully explain how he could have a year this disastrous: a .158 average, .249 on-base percentage, .256 slugging percentage, three homers, 14 RBIs and an incomprehensible 76-33 strikeouts-hits ratio.
Even if we ignore the strikeouts (and the Dodgers would like to), only one player in the entire live-ball era ever sunk to the level of all those other numbers in a season of 200 at-bats -- the legendarily overmatched Ray Oyler, in 1968. And only Dave Nicholson (76 K's, 30 hits in 1962) ever whiffed that many times in a season with 33 hits or fewer. Beyond that, Jones got outhomered by Carlos Zambrano, drove in fewer runs all season than Greg Dobbs knocked in just as a pinch-hitter and had a stretch in which he went 0-for-34 with runners in scoring position.
When the Dodgers signed Andruw, they thought he'd have the same effect on their lineup that Manny wound up having. Little did they know it would actually be more like the Manny Alexander effect.
Sighs of relief for: Jeff Francoeur, Khalil Greene, Corey Patterson.
AL LVP: Kenji Johjima, Mariners
What do Andruw Jones and Kenji Johjima have in common? If there was a way to spend the same money on building a time machine, both their teams would rather build it, head back about 10 months and take a mulligan on these contracts than try to figure out what to do with these two poster boys for expensive disappointment.
Johjima's three-year, $24 million extension didn't make much baseball sense at the time, anyway, considering the Mariners' best prospect (Jeff Clement) was a catcher. But now it looks like a worse investment than Enron stock.
There were 124 AL hitters who got 350 at-bats this season. Johjima ranked 119th in on-base percentage (.272), 119th in OPS (.594), 118th in slugging (.322) and 114th in batting average (.223). Now add in all the issues he had with assorted members of his pitching staff, and this was a vintage LVP kind of year. Oh, by the way, did I mention that his three-year extension doesn't even kick in until next season?
Sighs of relief for: Richie Sexson, Pudge Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Robinson Cano, Julio Lugo.
NL Cy Young: Tim Lincecum
I know there are voters who don't think they can vote for a pitcher who's 17-5, when Brandon Webb has spun a terrific 22-7, 3.24 season off his acehood assembly line. But I'd like all those voters to do me a favor: Ignore the wins column.
Consider this: Tim Lincecum has cranked out a stat line of his own that is not only more spectacular than Webb's (wins notwithstanding), but is historic: a 2.66 ERA (barely second to Johan Santana), 252 strikeouts (most in the NL), a .223 opponent batting average (first in the league) and 10.31 strikeouts per 9 innings (also first). So how many right-handed pitchers can match Lincecum's wins, winning percentage and all those other numbers in any season in history? How about one: Pedro Martinez, in 1999. So forget that win gap.
Lincecum has had five saves blown for him. Webb has had one.
Lincecum has had five starts in which he gave up no more than one earned run and didn't win. Webb has had one.
Lincecum pitched for a team that was 28 games under .500 when he didn't pitch. Webb pitched for a team that led its division most of the year.
We live in an age in which we ought to be able to use tools more incisive than "wins" to evaluate who has pitched the best. Don't you think? Well, let's use those tools. "Best stuff in baseball," says Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur. And best year in the National League. Which is what Cy Youngs are made of.
Apologies to: Santana, Webb, Lidge, Sabathia.
AL Cy Young: Cliff Lee, Indians
OK, a warning: In this section of the Cy Young discussion, I'm not going to ignore the old "wins" column -- but only because Cliff Lee never loses. Or just about never.
Even with his defeat Tuesday in Boston, he's still 22-3 -- with a shot (if he wins Sunday) to become the ninth pitcher in the Cy Young era (since 1956) to finish a season 20 games over .500. And in Lee's case, that record is no fluke.
He leads the league in wins, ERA and quality-start percentage. A win Sunday would give him the third-highest winning percentage among all 20-game winners in history (behind only Ron Guidry and Lefty Grove).
And as picturesque as Lee's record may appear, it should actually be even better. The Indians have blown three saves for him. And he didn't get a win out of three other starts in which he pitched into the seventh inning or beyond and gave up one run or less.
Since 1967, when baseball began awarding Cy Youngs in each league, 16 pitchers have led their league in wins and ERA in the same year. Only one of them (Mike Boddicker, who lost to reliever Willie Hernandez in 1984) failed to win the Cy Young. There's zero chance Lee is about to join him, even though there's a better Cy case for Roy Halladay than most casual observers seem to have noticed.
Apologies to: Halladay, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Ervin Santana, Mariano Rivera.
NL Cy Yuk: Adam Eaton, Phillies
It would be easy to pick on Barry Zito for this award, because it isn't often you can get a 17-loss season for your $126 million. Or Eric Gagne, a $10 million man whose greatest contribution to the Brewers might have been the 5,000 tickets he gave away Thursday.
But just slightly below their portion of the radar screen, you can find Adam Eaton, an investment so empty he belongs in my 401(k) portfolio.
The Phillies are paying Eaton more money this year ($7.635 million) than they're paying Jimmy Rollins or Jamie Moyer -- with one regrettable year left on a nightmarish three-year, $24.5 million contract.
They got a 6.29 ERA out of the first year of that contract. And Eaton followed up that masterpiece with this year's 4-8 record, 5.80 ERA and 181 baserunners in only 107 innings. So that makes him just the seventh pitcher in the past 50 years to roll up back-to-back seasons with at least a 5.80 ERA, 15 baserunners allowed per nine innings and 100 or more innings pitched.
Of the 99 pitchers who have worked at least 260 innings over the past two years combined, Eaton is dead last in ERA (6.10). And that doesn't even count his seven minor league starts this summer -- during an emergency non-rehab option -- in which he went a spiffy 0-4 with a 7.03 ERA. There have been times over the past two months the Phillies were desperate for another arm. Yet they haven't rolled Eaton out there even once.
And nothing announces his Cy Yukdom to the world better than that.
Cys of relief for: Zito, Gagne, Ian Snell, Brad Penny.
AL Cy Yuk: Luis Mendoza, Rangers
It's hard to believe I'm not presenting this award to Seattle's Carlos Silva, a guy who went 3-0 in April and somehow still finished 4-15, never beating another AL team in any of his final 22 intraleague starts.
But here's why I'm not: Take a look at Luis Mendoza's stats and then try to convince me that anybody else should possibly collect this Cy Yuk. His 8.66 ERA would only be the ninth-highest since 1900 among pitchers who worked as many innings as he did (62 1/3). But now add in his 125 baserunners in those 62 1/3 innings (more than two per inning). Then factor in the 13 unearned runs he gave up (which do count on the old scoreboard, you know). And what you have is a fellow who racked up nearly 11 more runs (73) than innings. I only found two other pitchers in modern history who could match that crazy feat: Andy Larkin (87 runs in 74 2/3 IP for the 1998 Marlins) and Roy Halladay (87 in 67 2/3 IP in his back-to-the-drawing-board 2000 season).
I sure hope the rest of Mendoza's career resembles Halladay's career more than Larkin's. But in the meantime, at least there's a Cy Yuk to inspire him.
Cys of relief for: Silva, Daniel Cabrera, Livan Hernandez, Nate Robertson, Fausto Carmona.
NL Rookie of the Year: Geovany Soto, Cubs
Are we sure this guy hasn't actually been around for 10 years, playing under an assumed name (say, Victor Posada or Pudge Piazza)? Sure seems like it.
Soto has started 131 games -- in shin guards, remember. He has led all NL catchers not named Brian McCann in homers, extra-base hits, slugging and OPS.
He has handled the best pitching staff in the National League as if he's been doing it all his life.
He has hit more home runs (23) than any rookie catcher since Mike Piazza.
He was the first rookie catcher to start the All-Star Game in the history of the National League. And he's only the fifth catcher in the expansion era to catch this many games, hit this many homers, drive in this many runs and slug .500 at age 25 or younger. The others: Piazza, Johnny Bench, McCann and Matt Nokes.
"He's a rookie," one NL executive said, "who isn't a rookie." And that's exactly the kind of rookie who wins this award.
Apologies to: Joey Votto, Jair Jurrjens, Hiroki Kuroda, Jay Bruce.
AL Rookie of the Year: Evan Longoria, Rays
All you need to know about Evan Longoria is the look on his teammates' faces when his name comes up.
"This guy is the best player I ever saw," said Eric Hinske, a one-time rookie of the year himself.
OK, what he meant was that Longoria is the best player this young he ever saw. But you get the idea.
Since the day Longoria dropped out of the sky and took ownership of third base, all he has done is merely be the best player on one of the most miraculous teams of all time. And that's an amazing statement, considering we're talking about a guy who didn't even make that team in spring training.
Longoria was so good, he missed 30 games with a broken wrist and still leads all AL rookies in RBIs, extra-base hits and total bases. His slugging percentage (.538) would be the second-highest in history by any rookie third baseman (behind only Al Rosen's .543 in 1950), second only to Pujols among all active players and the best by any AL rookie since Mark McGwire in 1987.
Hardly a day goes by when you don't hear somebody compare Longoria to David Wright, Scott Rolen or even Mike Schmidt. And he's still only 22 (younger than Lil Wayne).
When the Rays swooped in and signed Longoria through 2016 six days into his big league career, they were telling us all that this kid is going to be the centerpiece of the franchise for the next decade.
Apologies to: Alexei Ramirez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Joba Chamberlain, Brad Ziegler, Mike Aviles, Denard Span.
Managers of the Year: Joe Maddon, Rays, and Lou Piniella, Cubs
There are no other managers on Earth who talk like Joe Maddon, think like Joe Maddon or wear those professorial glasses like Joe Maddon. And this year, there is nobody else on Earth who has managed as well as Joe Maddon, either.
Maddon's as responsible as anyone for changing the mindset of a team that once thought a 70-win season was inspirational enough to pop champagne corks. And he has been rewarded with a trip to October and one of the great turnarounds in history.
Meanwhile, his predecessor, Lou Piniella, hasn't done so bad himself. True, the Cubs have the biggest payroll in their division. True, they started the year with the highest expectations in their division. But Piniella is a winner, and he was the right man to push the Cubs to another plateau in a season that could have been haunted by the fact that it has been a whole century now since You Know What.
Apologies to: Ron Gardenhire, Mike Scioscia, Terry Francona, Tony La Russa, Fredi Gonzalez, Charlie Manuel, Jerry Manuel.
Injuries of the Year
• Fifth prize: Carlos Beltran twisted his knee on Labor Day -- by sliding into home and crashing into plate ump Ed Rapuano, who then toppled over and landed on Beltran's knee.
• Fourth prize: Orioles pitcher Dennis Sarfate slammed his own car door on himself while moving into his apartment in April, never realized he fractured his clavicle and only found out in September that he (a) had pitched with it all year and (b) needed surgery.
• Third prize: Giants reliever Keiichi Yabu missed two games in April when he was attacked by his own elastic exercise band. The band is supposed to slip over a hook on his locker. But this time, it wiggled off the hook, conked Yabu in the eye and blurred his vision for a couple of days. When Yabu arrived in the clubhouse the next day, he found the exercise band tied up and attached with a note from the trainer that read: "NO!"
• Second prize: A's first baseman Daric Barton managed to get hurt during the All-Star break. How? By diving into the shallow end of a friend's swimming pool and clanking his head and neck on the bottom. He did get two not-so-prestigious trips out of it: (1) to the emergency room and (2) to the disabled list.
• First prize: Tigers utility whiz Brandon Inge was lying in bed with his 3-year-old, reached over to move a pillow under his son's head, strained his sore oblique and wound up on the disabled list. Sorry to report he still hasn't landed a Sleepy's endorsement deal from it. "Well, that's a first," Jim Leyland said.
• Honorable mention: Lots of great moments in self-inflicted mishap madness this year: Carlos Quentin knocked himself out of the MVP race by slamming his fist into his bat and fracturing his wrist. Royals pitcher John Bale punched a door in the team hotel and broke his pitching hand. Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki fired his bat down in frustration, broke the bat and slashed up his hand. And Angels pitcher Jered Weaver had to miss a start in September after he cut two fingers on his pitching hand, trying to push himself up off the bench at Comerica Park.
Five Epic Box Score Lines of the Year
• Fifth prize: Florida's Ricky Nolasco became the only pitcher in the past 50 years to do this (April 17 versus Atlanta):
9 hits, 9 extra-base hits, 0 singles (4 HR, 4 doubles, 1 triple)
• Fourth prize: Colorado's Mark Redman had two box score lines in one bizarre start, April 26 in Dodger Stadium:
First inning: 1 IP, 6 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 4 BB, 0 K, 1 WP, 1 HBP, 1 Matt Kemp grand slam
Innings 2-6: 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K
Redman's claim to fame: First pitcher in modern history to give up 10 runs in the first inning and be left in to throw another pitch, let alone another five innings.
• Third prize: No pitcher since 1900 had ever crammed all these hits, all these earned runs and all these homers into a game in which he only got three outs, until the Reds' Bronson Arroyo did it, June 24 versus the Blue Jays:
1 IP, 11 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 3 HR, 1 WP
Quote of the day: Asked afterward if he could forget this game, Arroyo retorted, "Can I forget it? I forgot it three hours ago."
• Second prize: Until Jimmy Gobble walked out of the Royals' bullpen July 21 and unfurled this line, no relief pitcher in 60 years had given up 10 runs in an inning or less. But not anymore:
1 IP, 7 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 4 BB, 0 K, 1 HR, 1 WP, 45 pitches to get three outs
• First prize: Amazingly, Gobble didn't even compile the messiest box score line of the year by a Royal. That honor goes to Brian Bannister, for his Aug. 17 nightmare in Yankee Stadium:
1 IP, 10 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 3 BB, 0 K, 3 HR, faced 16 hitters, got 3 outs
Only the Royals Dept.: Just one other pitcher in the past 50 years has pitched to as many as 16 hitters and gotten only three of them out -- and that was a fellow Royal, Flash Gordon, on Oct. 1, 1995.
Only the Royals Dept., Part II: The Elias Sports Bureau reports that Bannister and Gobble made the Royals the first team since 1900 to have two different pitchers in the same season who gave up 10 runs in a game in which they lasted no more than one inning.
Five More Box Score Classics
• Been There, Done This Dept.: Houston's Brandon Backe had that déjà vu feeling last month -- when he became the second pitcher in the past 50 years to give up 11 runs (or more) twice in a week and a half:
Aug. 16 vs. Arizona: 5 2/3 IP, 9 H, 11 R, 11 ER, 5 BB, 6 K, 3 HR, 2 grand slams
Aug. 6 vs. the Cubs: 3 1/3 IP, 9 H, 11 R, 11 ER, 6 BB, 0 K, 2 HR
• A win is a Win: No home team had won a game in which its starting pitcher gave up 10 earned runs since the 1945 Red Sox. But Andy Pettitte changed all that, in the Yankees' nutty 11-10 win on June 7 versus the Royals:
6 2/3 IP, 10 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 2 HR
• A Win is a Win, Part II: Angels ace John Lackey didn't allow 10 runs in this July 10 start in Texas that wound up in his personal W column. But he wasn't exactly unhittable, either. No other team since 1956 has won a game in which its starting pitcher gave up this many hits in this brief a visit to the mound:
5 2/3 IP, 15 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 2 HR
• Great Moments in Relief Pitching: Just another adventurous day in the life of Rays closer Troy Percival, on June 24 versus Florida -- the third four-walk save since the invention of the modern save rule:
1 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 1 K, save
• Don't Quit Your Day Job Dept.: Finally, we hadn't seen a catcher head for the mound and turn into the losing pitcher in any game since Hall of Famer Roger Bresnahan did it in 1901. But when the Mariners pointed catcher Jamie Burke toward the old hill in the 15th inning of a July 6 marathon with Detroit, he gave us not just a cool pitching line (1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, O K, 1 very wild pitch) but also this:
Burke (LP, 0-1)
Five Craziest Games of the Year
• Hey Nineteen -- Aug. 12: Red Sox 19, Rangers 17. Games don't get much goofier than this. In the first inning of Red Sox pitcher Charlie Zink's career, his team scored 10 runs for him -- and he didn't get a win out of it (because he got knocked out in the fifth inning). Somehow, the Rangers came all the way back to take a 16-14 lead. And the good news was, that got their starter, Scott Feldman, off the hook in a game in which he gave up 12 runs -- but didn't lose. (He was the first starting pitcher to do that since 1918.) But the bad news for Texas was, Kevin Youkilis mashed a game-winning homer in the eighth. So the Red Sox wound up winning anyway, breaking a 522-game losing streak by AL teams that had given up 17 runs (or more) in one game. "The roller-coaster ride in Boston is always fun," laughed Youkilis.
• Don't Walk This Way -- Sept. 5: A's 11, Orioles 2. Last year, on the day the Orioles announced they were bringing back interim manager Dave Trembley, they lost a 30-3 game. This year, the day they announced they were extending Trembley's contract, they allowed an eight-run inning -- on one hit. How'd that happen? How 'bout six walks, including four with the bases loaded, plus a hit batter and a grand slam -- by a guy (Rajai Davis) who had entered the game as a pinch runner. So the Orioles became the first team since the 1959 A's to give up eight runs in an inning on one lousy hit, and the first since the 2004 Dodgers to issue four bases-loaded walks in an inning. And loyal reader Eric Orns reports that Davis was the first guy to hit a slam in an inning he started as a pinch runner since Gene Stephens did it for the Red Sox on July 13, 1959 (after running for Ted Williams). "I've never seen an inning like that," Trembley told the Baltimore Sun's Dan Connolly. "Ever."
• Got Change For a 20 -- April 17: Rockies 2, Padres 1, in 22 scintillating innings. What a game. No extra-base hits until the 13th. No runs for either team until the 14th. Seven different pitchers batted -- including Glendon Rusch, who was allowed to go up and make the final out of the game. Both pitching staffs launched more than 300 pitches (658 of them altogether), for the first time in any game since 1991. The Rockies struck out 20 times -- and won. Brad Hawpe became the first man in 35 years to go 0 for 22 innings but still drive in a run (on a sac fly). Troy Tulowitzki went 0 for the first 19 innings but still wound up with a multihit game (including the game-winning double in the 22nd). And both catchers -- Yorvit Torrealba and Josh Bard -- caught all 22 innings. But the free-thinking Torrealba actually claimed he was disappointed it ended so, um, fast: "I want to catch eight more," he told the Denver Post's Troy Renck. "I wanted to get 30 innings in today."
• Suspended Animation -- April 28 (with Part II on Aug. 26): Orioles 4, White Sox 3, in 14 innings (over 17 weeks). This wasn't the best game of the year, but it sure was the most complicated. It got weathered out April 28 in Chicago, then finished Aug. 26 in Baltimore. But officially, in baseball's technicality-obsessed eyes, it all happened in April. So that means: Orioles rookie Lou Montanez got the first hit of his career on April 28 -- even though he wasn't called up until Aug. 5. And he got it in Chicago, even though he has never played there. History will also tell us that Orioles pitcher Alberto Castillo won his first big league game on April 28, even though he didn't arrive in the majors until July 8. And Orioles reliever Rocky Cherry collected his first save 3½ months before his call-up, too. Junior Griffey walked, meaning he officially reached base for two teams in the same day. (He also singled for the Reds on April 28.) And because the grand finale was part of a "doubleheader" in Baltimore, the Orioles managed to occupy first and last place on the same day. By winning "Game 1," they moved into first on April 28. But by losing "Game 2," they were still right back in last place on Aug. 25. Try that on your Xbox sometime.
• Star Power -- July 15: American League 4, National League 3, in 15 magical All-Star innings (and 4 hours, 50 minutes of total insanity). Who knows where to start? This classic set All-Star records for longest game ever, most players (63), most pitchers (23) and most strikeouts (34). The National League blew leads in the seventh (2-0) and eighth (3-2). But that just enabled the NL to become the first team ever to squirm out of a bases-loaded, no-out All-Star jam (in the 10th) -- and throw out the winning run at the plate in the 11th. Florida's poor Dan Uggla had the All-Star Night From Hell, joining the rarified 3-Error, 3-Strikeout Club, and as a bonus he also grounded into a double play. The losing pitcher (Brad Lidge) was a guy who went into the weekend with no losses and no blown saves during the entire regular season. And if he hadn't lost it -- at 1:37 a.m. ET -- the next two pitchers were going to be David Wright and Evan Longoria. Neither of whom has been confused lately with Cy Young or Walter Johnson. Asked how stressful those final innings were to manage, AL quotesmith Terry Francona summed it up eloquently: "I have acne on my forehead," he announced.
Managerial Brainstorm of the Year
For the past century, it's safe to say the intentional walk has been a lot less interesting than intentional grounding, intentional fouls and just about any episode ever made of "Law and Order, Criminal Intent."
But Rays manager Joe Maddon changed all that Aug. 17, with a move out of the Buck Showalter playbook.
With the bases loaded in the ninth, a four-run lead and Mr. Home Run Derby himself, Josh Hamilton, heading for home plate, Maddon knew exactly what had to be done -- even if no American League manager had done it in over a century.
He intentionally walked Hamilton -- with the bases loaded. And lived to tell about it. The next hitter, Marlon Byrd, whiffed for the final out. And we'd just witnessed another great moment in managerial genius.
"No, not really," Maddon told Year in Review. "Just managerial imagination."
And here you thought managerial imagination had been banned by 36 states, huh? Nope. Apparently not.
Showalter pulled this move on Barry Bonds in 1998. But no AL manager had tried it since May 23, 1901, when White Stockings manager Clark Griffith sprung the same ploy on Nap Lajoie.
Maddon said he'd had this idea stashed away for years, since Showalter did it. But he'd never actually tried it at any level -- until Hamilton showed up at home plate.
"I was laughing," said first baseman Carlos Pena, "because I thought, 'That's the coolest thing I've ever seen in my life.'"
"Guys [in the bullpen] were like, 'No way!'" said Troy Percival. "But I was saying, 'You don't let Superman beat you when you have Wonder Woman on deck.'"
Asked by Year in Review if this move sealed Maddon's reputation as an outside-the-box thinker, Cliff Floyd chuckled and said, "He's a long way from the box."
"I don't think of it as doing things outside the box," Maddon said. "Just baseball is so stuck with doing things a certain way that when you try something a little bit different, it's considered outside the box. But 30, 40 years from now, it might be considered common practice. All new ideas need to start somewhere, just like when Gene Mauch did the double switch for the first time. I'm sure people said, 'Whoa, what's that?'"
Well, the pitcher Maddon assigned this job to, Grant Balfour, was asking, "What's that?" himself. But the rest of the troops just chalked it up to another day in the free-thinking life of Joe Maddon.
"Everybody was kind of on board with it," Maddon said. "Then again, if it hadn't worked, I'd have been french-fried right there."
Impossible Stuff That Really Happened This Year
• The only Padre to steal a base in July was noted burglar Greg Maddux.
• Willy Taveras stole five bases in one game June 14 -- and still didn't score a run.
• CC Sabathia is tied for the lead in shutouts in both leagues in the same season.
• The Giants just became the first team since the 1983 Dodgers to field an entire lineup of nine rookies (courtesy of the San Jose Mercury News' Andy Baggarly).
• The Tigers whiffed Angels rookie Sean Rodriguez on Sept. 4 -- on a 4-and-2 pitch -- when everybody lost track of the count, including the umpires and Rodriguez. "That's a new trick of ours," manager Jim Leyland said.
• Uber-efficent Rockies pitcher Aaron Cook threw a nine-inning complete game in just 79 pitches July 5. That's fewer pitches than 12 different pitchers threw this year without making it out of the third inning.
• The Rangers had a winning record in July -- even though their ERA for the month was 6.63.
• Two different Rays switch-hitters homered right-handed in the same game Sept. 17 -- but it was against a right-handed pitcher (Tim Wakefield), the first time that had ever happened in the 48-season expansion era.
• As my buddy Tim Kurkjian loves to point out, on Aug. 22, the Diamondbacks became the first team ever to have a 6-foot-10 pitcher (Randy Johnson) get relieved by a taller pitcher (6-11 Jon Rauch).
• Sure hope you didn't miss Jhonny Peralta's homer off Joel Peralta (Aug. 21), or Miguel Cabrera's homer off Daniel Cabrera (July 19), or Jose Reyes' two homers off Jo-Jo Reyes in one week (Sept. 13 and 19). Not to mention that Rays-Angels game Aug. 19 in which James Shields was the winning pitcher and Scot Shields was the losing pitcher.
• And I still can't believe Johan Santana had that at-bat Tuesday in which his bat hit the same ball twice -- first in the batter's box, and then again just before Cubs shortstop Ronny Cedeno was about to dodge the broken barrel and field it. "It should count for two hits," Santana said.
Quotes of the Year
• Fifth prize -- From Rays quotemeister Cliff Floyd, after witnessing yet another Tropicana Field home run that went up but didn't come down (because it got stuck in one of those pesky Trop catwalks):
"Tell you what. What goes up in this park might not ever be found again."
• Fourth prize -- From the Joaquin Andujar of his era, Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano, after his GM, Jim Hendry, pulled off a July trade for Rich Harden.
"I have one word for Jim Hendry: Good job."
• Third prize -- From global-minded Royals pitcher Brian Bannister, after a game in which it took him 90 pitches to get through three innings, thanks to a bunch of baseballs that couldn't locate the strike zone:
"I like walks about as much as I like high gas prices."
• Second prize -- From Ralph Nader, after he'd been told by Washington Post editors that the lack of coverage of his presidential campaign was because he had no chance of winning:
"Then why are you covering the Nationals?"
• First prize -- From Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi, on the late, great Yankee Stadium:
"It's a place where men become children -- and children never forget as men."
Ozzie Guillen Quotes of the Year
• Second prize -- On his second-favorite Chicago ballpark, Wrigley Field:
"You are going to take batting practice, and the rats look bigger than a pig out there," he told the Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley. "You want to take a look? I think the rats out there are lifting weights."
• First prize -- On why he was having trouble remembering that April 28 suspended game by the time it resumed in August:
"There was a lot of vodka between that game and today," he told the Sun-Times' Chris De Luca. "Believe me."
• Special bonus quote -- And thanks to the Chicago Tribune's Phil Rogers for passing along this quip from the White Sox's No. 1 pick, Gordon Beckham, on his first impression of the inimitable Ozzie:
"I hope to get up here and get yelled at sooner than later."
Ichiro Quotes of the Year
(courtesy of the Seattle Times' Larry Stone)
• Third prize -- On his teammates' view of his, well, unique fashion sense:
"All my teammates don't think what I'm wearing is good fashion. A lot of times, they can't believe what I'm wearing. But if you ask me, what they're wearing is a crime."
• Second prize -- On the one-of-a-kind personality of his recently retired ex-teammate, Bret Boone:
"When I met him, he was kind of a human being that you would never meet in Japan. So whenever I was around him, I almost felt like I was witnessing a creature, not a human being."
• First prize -- On what it was like to listen to the boos in Seattle as the Mariners began to self-destruct in May:
"Playing on this team and seeing what is happening around me, I feel that something is beginning to fall apart. But, if I was not in this situation, and I was objectively watching what just happened this week, I would probably be drinking a lot of beers and booing. Usually, I enjoy Japanese beer, but given the situation, if I was objectively watching the game, I wouldn't care if it was Japanese beer, American beer or beer from Papua New Guinea."
Joe Maddon Quotes of the Year
(courtesy of the St. Petersburg Times' Marc Topkin)
• Third prize -- On the inner struggles of pitcher Matt Garza:
"He's kind of like a recovering emotionalist."
• Second prize -- On a "creative" day of umpiring by plate ump James Hoye:
"The strike zone was slightly amorphic today."
• First prize -- After finding out someone had swiped his debit card to buy gas:
"With the price of gas these days, I would have preferred they'd gone to Tiffany's."
Late-Night Quotes of the Year
• Fifth prize -- From David Letterman, on the Pope's visit to Yankee Stadium:
"People are saying it was a great mass. As a matter of fact, afterward the Yankees retired Roman numeral XVI."
• Fourth prize -- From Jay Leno, on the New York financial crisis:
"AIG has assets over $1 trillion.
Has anybody ever had $1 trillion and still failed? OK, besides the New York Yankees."
• Third prize -- From Letterman, on Barry Bonds' 44th birthday:
"This is kind of odd. Earlier today he tested positive for cake."
• Second prize -- Also from Letterman, on the final game at Yankee Stadium:
"The stadium will now be imploded. By the way, the team imploded around April."
• First prize -- From Leno, on A-Rod's favorite new squeeze, Madonna:
"How old is Madonna? Instead of A-Rod, maybe they should call him AARP-Rod."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.